As the Covid-19 pandemic shatters the state’s oil and gas industry, solar energy production is on a trajectory for record growth.
With intense sun and vast tracts of empty land that can accommodate a large scale of solar farms, West Texas is now rapidly developing in the solar energy sector. Texas’ free market approach to electricity production encourages big solar electricity projects. With technological innovations, the cost of developing solar farms has dropped about 40% in Texas in the last five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). And once a solar farm is built, it’s inexpensive to operate compared to gas and coal-fired plants, because its fuel is free.
Federal tax credits have cut the cost of developing solar farms. Meanwhile, demand for solar electricity has increased as both the public and corporations have embraced it as a way of battling the climate crisis.
The overall growth has slowed slightly since COVID-19 began spreading across Texas in March, quarantining workers and disrupting supply chains. But unlike the oil and gas industry, the solar industry did not crumble. In the last 10 years, Texas had lagged behind other states in terms of solar development. But in 2018 and 2019, Texas ranked second in the nation for the amount of solar capacity installed during the year.
Some of Texas’s largest companies, including heavy polluters in the petroleum sector, have begun switching to solar and investing in its development. In 2018, ExxonMobil agreed to use solar and wind power to draw oil from the Permian Basin. Bloomberg reported that it was the biggest renewable deal ever signed by an oil company. In 2019, Facebook agreed to finance construction of the 4,600-acre Prospero solar farm in Andrews County in West Texas. This year, Bank of America announced that it had partnered with the Texas-based Reliant Energy to get electricity from a West Texas solar farm. And Dow Chemical signed an agreement to use a South Texas solar farm to supply its Gulf Coast petrochemical plant, the largest facility of its kind in the western hemisphere.
In July, Houston’s city government transitioned to 100 percent wind and solar for all of its operations, including wastewater treatment plants, the zoo, and its three airports. Houston is now the largest U.S. city government powered entirely by renewables.
Despite the rapid growth of both solar and wind, Texas still produces far more carbon dioxide than any other U.S. state—more than 700 million metric tons every year, about twice as much as the next most highly polluting state, California. Texas’s heavy emissions are owed to its size, industrial production, and sources of electricity.
And even with solar growth, it still makes up only about 2 percent of electricity generation in Texas. In comparison, natural gas makes up about 44 percent, wind about a quarter, and coal 16 percent. Experts say it will take time for solar to eclipse other electricity sources, as wind power did after its buildout began more than two decades ago.
The Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Program, Advanced Edition 2020, November 13, 16 and 17, DIGITAL VERSION teaches participants on how to think ahead and adapt to the ever-changing energy environment. Learning and staying ahead of the game are the best tools in tackling any type of crisis.